The Transfiguration of Our Lord
“Light at the End of the Tunnel”
Seminarian Brendan Harris, Vicar
St. Matthew 17.1-9
24 January 2021
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus ☩ Christ; Amen.
O Lord Jesus, what is this incredible vision you have allowed us to behold? O what is this wonder, that you revealed your glory to the apostles on the mount? Lord, what is the meaning of this? Surely, in this most blessèd scene of our Lord’s Transfiguration, heaven itself has come to earth. Just like before His tabernacle of old, the Lord has come down in a cloud, and His voice booms out as if He were giving the Torah again to Moses. Indeed, Moses himself is there, and Elijah too no less, and in the flesh?! Of what wonderful mysteries did they converse with you, O Lord? Who could help but fall down before such a sight as did blessèd Peter, James, and John? O Lord, surely it is good that we are here, in the presence of Your Word, a sure prophecy like a lamp shining in a dark place, which has relayed to us this wondrous event.
But what does it all mean? For what reason did our Lord bring the three up to the mountain? We know that Jesus did not do this out of temptation, He was not doing this out of vanity like Satan tempted Him to do in the wilderness, but rather He did it for the sake of Peter, James, and John, so that their faith would be confirmed and they could testify to this marvel. They were allowed to witness this, because just before this event is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, on behalf of all the apostles, and then Jesus relays to them the purpose of His ministry. Jesus says the Christ must die and be raised, and then Jesus gives this solemn invitation: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” It is with this in mind that He brings His apostles up to the mountain, for only through the Cross, through belief in the necessity and the blessing of the death and resurrection of Christ, can anyone truly witness this glory revealed. And this glory was not alone revealed to Peter, James, and John, but as Saint Peter tells us himself, Jesus revealed this to you as well, His sons and daughters in a far-off age, for in His Word, His prophecy, recorded and read again here, this same mystery is made real among us also.
But what is this mystery? What is Jesus telling us by conveying to us this event? Well, again in the words of Saint Peter, what we have here is a lamp that shines in the darkness, with this miracle the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. This is because in the Lord’s Transfiguration, we can see all things. With the eyes of faith, with the faith that clings to these words of Peter, “You are the Christ,” you see for what purpose our Lord has come, for by faith the night will become as day. This miracle was not just a show of the Lord’s power, not just a flexing of His muscles, if you will, but a vision of the glory which is to come. This vision is that lamp in the darkness, it is that light at the end of the tunnel that we walk our whole lives reaching for, stumbling towards. For the light at the end of the tunnel of this life is not just your ordinary passage way, it is not just a circle, but it shines at us the whole way in the shape of the Cross. This is what is meant by the Narrow Way, for to reach the other side one must be first made in the shape of the Cross, by being born again from above by water and the Spirit. And this Son of God does not leave us here to walk alone: instead, He declines Peter’s offer of building tabernacles up on the mountaintop, but rather He turns back to His people, His sons, and He touches them, and says to them, “Rise, have no fear.” He tells them, “Yes, my friends, we are going through a long and dark tunnel, but this which you have seen, this is what you will behold at the end of all these things, and I will bring you there. For now, we must go back down, for I have work yet to do. For there shall soon come another mountain, and upon it the Christ must take up His Cross and die for the sins of the whole world and on the third day be raised.”
O Lord, what is this great marvel? What exactly did you show Peter, James, and John? Now, do you reckon the apostles saw an apparition, a ghost, a mirage? No, they were with Jesus of Nazareth, a man of flesh and bone who touched them, and they also saw Elijah and Moses, and they too both appeared in flesh and bone by the power of God. Elijah was assumed body and soul on the chariot of Israel into heaven, and the Epistle of Jude tells us Moses’ body too was taken up after he had died and been buried. And so yes, we truly see a glimpse of something heavenly here, yet it is different from heaven in this way: everyone there had bodies of flesh—save the Father as the voice and the Holy Spirit in the cloud—and they were all there planted firmly on earth. Jesus shows us this Transfiguration, because He is showing us what that place which we so often call heaven will actually be like. When we think of heaven, our first thoughts are usually of lounging around on pillows of clouds, of a wispy ethereal place where everyone has halos and angel wings surrounded by golden gates and white marble brick walls. But, I say to you, heaven is far more profound than our imaginations can ever comprehend, and what’s more, heaven is not the end. The light at the end of the tunnel is heavenly yes, but it is not strictly speaking heaven, because Jesus has more in store for us than clouds, which when grabbed, simply melt around your fingers, like a waking dream. Jesus and his saints are here in their flesh, because as the prophet Isaiah tells us, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Jesus shows us something here which exceeds our commonly held misconceptions and exceeds the furthest extent of our imaginations, for He was not content to stay locked behind some pearly gate in heaven, but out of love for us, came down to take the Cross and show us this vision of what we will someday, with Him, and in Him, become in our very flesh and blood. This was His plan from the beginning, that He would finally on that day, in His fullness, come and dwell among His beloved people Israel, that He would touch them, and truly embrace them, not simply in a spiritual sense, but in a real, visceral sense that we can hold onto. And like His people of old were baptized through the Red Sea, we have been made His people Israel through the flood of Holy Baptism. Out of love for us, He will indeed make all things new, and we will fall before Him as His own sons, adopted by grace, and we will worship Him along with all his prophets and apostles, with faces brighter than that of Moses, body and soul and all.
But for now, Moses and Elijah have gone back up, and the Age of the Apostles has passed. Nevertheless, this glory is revealed to us here, and with those gone before us, we will treasure it and hold onto it until the last day dawns, when this inheritance will be fully reckoned to us. Indeed, it is for this day that all the saints await, for those who have gone before us cry from underneath the heavenly altar, “Lord, how long?” Surely, all of this is what was on the lips of Moses and Elijah, who conversed with Jesus about His glorious death and resurrection and second coming. Although we too must wait, although we too cannot spend our whole day on this holy mountain but must go back down, although we too must take up our crosses and walk through this dark tunnel, we will forever have the comfort of this vision, beaming forth on our faces from the Cross of Jesus, the ultimate light at the end of our tunnel. Although you too must die on whatever cross it is you have been called to bear, you do not go alone, for this light is ever upon you. You may feel at some point that God has abandoned you, that He has forgotten you and left you to suffer your cross alone, that He has left this world in the dark, yet it is through His own Cross that He has delivered you, and that selfsame Cross which He will hold before your closing eyes. It is by this Cross that His love is given to you, and through this love, that light at the end of the tunnel spills forth and illuminates everything like noonday. For the Christian who is baptized and believes, the night shall truly be as day because of our lamp, the Word of Christ, and with this Word, the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.
Brothers and sisters, do not fear, but rise; be comforted by our Savior’s touch, for He has come to you to give you strength to go on your way, strength to get through this day, through this year, through this coming Lenten season, through this night, that you may at the end of all things stand before Him as His own, in the blessèd daylight of the Cross at the end of time. And so let us give thanks; In His ☩ Name; Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; Amen.